If failure can be depicted, it would be a hole carved deep into the earth.
A thrown rock will hit and tumble against the smooth sides of the hole until it gets swallowed up beyond the line of vision, echoing forever for a crowd of down-and-outs, outcasts and deadbeats.
Only the strong survive. And standing atop the abyss, coach Forest Braden is testing the strength of the women’s cross country team.
“We’re climbing out of this,” Braden said.
Fresh off a stinging performance at the Stanford Invitational, in which the women’s squad, fueled by high expectations, fell to 9th place, the runners are looking to rally together and work through the gut-check as both the men’s and women’s teams head to South Bend, Ind. for Friday’s Notre Dame Invitational.
“We’re looking to find that confidence, and you get that with experience, from failing and learning something about yourself,” Braden said.
“By getting in races and failing, you can learn from it, to train harder and become a stronger, faster runner.”
For many of the underclassmen on the women’s roster who dominated the high school circuit and were more familiar with wins, the recent race was a reminder of what it felt like not to be the first one across the finish line.
“We know we can do better,” junior transfer Sarah Toberty said.
“We have a very young team, and we may not have expected what it was going to be like.”
The young Bruins have little experience when it comes to running in collegiate race, and adjusting to a higher level of competition can be challenging.
It is easy to be intimidated, and in a largely mental sport like cross country, that can make all the difference.
Just ask Braden, who knows exactly what many of his new runners are feeling.
As a freshmen runner for Boise State, Braden remembers the first time he laced up his shoes and settled himself at the starting line. Excited for his first meet in representing his school in the Western Athletic Conference, he looked around and eyed his competition.
And he immediately felt a sense of dread.
There were the big schools like Stanford and UCLA, all in top form as their runners stretched and warmed-up, sculpted athletes in their elegant uniforms perfecting their craft.
Then there were the other schools touting runners from faraway locations like Germany, Croatia and Kenya, seemingly better trained and prepared.
“Here I was, just a kid from north Idaho, and I’d see these runners, and I’d be defeated before we even started,” Braden said.
“But you have to get over that. If you prepare for it, prepare your body, prepare your mind, you’re going to do well. Anyone in the race is beatable.”
UCLA will have to exhibit a similar mentality if they want to come out on top this weekend. The runners will look to build and grow as the women’s team prepares to do battle against a field headlined by four top 25 teams including No. 2 New Mexico.
The men’s team goes up against the likes of No. 3 Stanford and No. 10 Florida State, looking to build upon their success second place finish last weekend at the Stanford Invitational.
“All the guys this past week have been working really hard, and it’s good to know that we’re all in this together,” sophomore Dustin Fay said.
Redshirt senior Kent Morikawa agrees.
“While it’s still early in the season, we trust our training and want to take those steps toward success,” he said.